TCD

Hell’s Half Acre is a roadside patch of badlands almost exactly in the center of Wyoming. It’s much bigger than the name suggests, more like Hell’s Half Square Mile, and the nearest sandstone and shale scarp that looks similar to it lies a whole state away in South Dakota.

A brown-skinned man emerged from the entrance of a cave in the eroded landscape dressed in dark blue-gray trousers and a knee-length jacket. He had a matching shirt and a silver leaf brooch in place of a tie and at first glance he looked like a man of the Shoshone tribe with a good seamstress for a wife. But the fellow was too short, his hair wasn’t straight enough, and his facial features suggested the Mediterranean shores were his true home. He had never walked in that place before, but the strange eroded landscape reminded him of the desolate area around the Salt Sea.

It was one hundred fifty feet from the floor of the ravine to the gravel parking lot looming above and the man ascended with no sign of exertion. He once roamed on foot over the whole land of his birth from Lake Kinneret as far north as the summit of Mount Hermon and as far south as Jerusalem in the hill country of Judaea.

He noted, without any surprise, the presence of a maroon 1941 Chrysler Town & Country woodie parked at the restaurant overlooking the geological oddity and knew he would find Robyn and her friends eating lunch inside, just as Robyn knew he was coming and gave fair warning. Robyn’s talent, after all, was merely an extension of his own.

Robyn, Gabriel, Jashen, Hunky and Dory were already standing at their table when he walked indoors, which the other guests might have thought was odd. None of them had ever seen him before but as B’nei Elohim they knew a seraph on sight and stopped everything, ready to serve.

“Please be seated,” he said, grabbing a chair from another table and carrying it over to theirs. “I’ll have what you’re having, Jashen.”

The Prophet raised a hand to flag down the waitress but the newcomer said, “No, not allegory, not a poetic metaphor. I’ll literally have what you’re having.”

He took up a knife, cut Jashen’s cheeseburger in two, and helped himself to one piece.

Hunky said, “I’m pretty sure that burger is not kosher, Lord Jesus. Aren’t you Jewish?”

“Not Jesus, Hunky. Call me Yeshua. The Greeks thought Yeshua was a girly name and called me Iesous. The Romans spelled it I-E-S-US. Then later the English thought names beginning with vowels were too girly and called me Jesus. As for the food, my mother made just one law about cutting a little flap of skin, and that was really my father’s idea, because he was trying to sabotage the whole experiment. Mixing meat and dairy was never on Bat-El’s mind. That was an invention of the priests.”

Michael’s house across the stony flat looked different than Elyon remembered, and no wonder, when Mt. Anshar was in eruption it no doubt threw flaming projectiles many miles. And Samael had once burned down the house himself in anger after the conception of Binah. With a scowl on his face at the pervasive smell of sulphur he strode past boiling mud pots and ponds of scalding water. The ground itself was as warm as his body. The house, he knew, relied on these thermal features to maintain a comfortable temperature within its walls. He walked the quarter-mile to the house and let himself inside. It was not locked, and why should it be? No traveler ever stumbled onto the land of Anshar for all the time Kemen has been populated.

The house was not empty. A short human stood in the main living space, brown of skin, with black hair cropped short and long unruly facial hair that marked him as one the descendants of Abraham who called themselves the Yehudim. They abstained from trimming their beard. The man said, simply, “I greet you, Belial.”

Belial said, “You know who I am, yet you do not address me as Lord. The B’nei Elohim have grown less courteous of late. Where is the seraph Bat-El mentioned would be waiting here?”

The man said, “I am that seraph.”

“Binah, then. Welcome to the world of meat.”

“This meat is called by the name of Yeshua. And Speaking of meat. I hope you brought some with you, Belial, otherwise the seven days you must tarry here will seem overlong. I have been forty days here in Anshar, and ten days without food.”

“There has been a house in Anshar from nearly the beginning. Obviously it has been maintained. So ask Bat-El to send ministering B’nei Elohim with some food. Doesn’t Bat-El love you? Why would your parent leave you in this lonely place while you run out of food to eat?”

Yeshua said, “Bat-El thought you might wish to meet a new seraph before he was sent to Earth. For indeed I am so, tasked, to order that world more to our liking.”

“A hungry man can never fairly begin a great toil. Please accept food from your other parent.”

Yeshua said, “Keep your food, as you will have the greater need. I am to leave Anshar somewhat before you do.”

“As you wish.” Belial looked around at the walls. “There used to be a map of Kemen here. Did it perish in the blaze Samael kindled?”

“There is a new map upstairs.”

“Then come, I would show you a thing.”

Yeshua followed Belial to the railed deck that formed a ceiling over the kitchen and the comfort room. There a talented artisan, perhaps one of the B’nei Elohim, had carved a representation of Kemen into the wall and coated it with varnish. Belial showed Yeshua the gently twisting band of Adan, from the River Kelang and the city of Dartarus in the east, to Ganelon and Mount Adan in the center, to Surat and Salem and the Aramel Sea in the west. “Behold, all these lands belong to Elyon, solely.”

“Elyon is sentient star with an angel as a living avatar. Do you mean the Adanites immediately obey the whims of that avatar? Forgive me, Chemosh, but that seems to me a small achievement.”

“Nevertheless, Yeshua, attend carefully. This is an opportunity to forge a covenant of our own, you and I.” Belial walked left along the wall frieze to stop where Rumbek was depicted. “Behold Magodon, which belongs to me, solely.”

“I dispute your use of the word ‘solely'”, objected Yeshua. “The War in Kemen never really ended with the fall of the dragon, would you not agree? Rumbek and Peshast remain at peace, but Elketz has been picked over for centuries and Belen is a ruin.”

“Again, Yeshua, hear me out. I will make all this worth your while.” Belial walked to the far left edge of the map. “This is Rammon. Bat-El rules there by default. The Gold Beards followed Michael from the beginning and none can assail them.”

“You are beginning to see a glimmer, Belial. To say you have an empire in a purely legal sense means little in real terms.”

Belial said, “I hope you see where all this is leading. he walked to the right, where Thalury appeared on the map, with Sastrom, Haaretz, and Vaska. “Kemen is divided into four great houses, four empires, if you will, and now there are four seraphim to reign over them. Give to me and Elyon the same deference you give to Bat-El, nothing more, and the holdings of Family Bellon are yours to rule as you see fit.”

Yeshua shook his head in wonder. “Belial, why should I be content to rule the fourth part of a mere ribbon on a largely frozen world with little more than half the area of the Earth? Kemen is merely the first interstellar colony of a home world that is far more rich. I’m not sent to rule, but to teach.”

Belial asked, “What would you teach?”

“To live peacefully with one other to begin,” said Yeshua. “Later, perhaps, to reach the stars without our aid and set up new Kemens of their own.”

Belial said, “You know that by covenant Bat-El is permitted to listen to the ‘chatter’ of our kind, but never to speak to them. I, however, will grant to you full access, to both listen and speak, if you agree to be silent about certain things.”

“Allow me to make a counteroffer, father. Abrogate the First Covenant. Grant to both myself and Bat-El full access with El Elyon immediately, and we will present the discovery of the Students to the City of Stars with no mention of the many centuries Bat-El was held silent.”

Belial shook his head. “It is well you took this opportunity to converse with me, Binah, but you have been a disappointment from the instant you began to exist.”

“The offer I made to you just now was sincere. But I would have been surprised to hear your acceptance.”

“I must admit the offer is tempting,” Belial said. “That is the traditional role of your father and you’ve turned the tables quite neatly. But announcing the Students, even under the terms you offer, will bring a level of scrutiny from the City of Stars that I will never be prepared to accept. What I will do instead is press one advantage I do have. You fear serial lives? You will only exist in union with this one from those sunny farms and hills along Hayam Hagadol? Very well! I can add a complication to your plan to become a teacher to your students.”

Belial reached into his tunic and withdrew a long devilish blade, almost a short sword. he said, “Once I got into an all-night tussle with Yakob. You know that story. You look underfed to me, yet I’ll not repeat the mistake.”

“Oh, Belial, it will take much more than a blade to finish me. Plasma from a star’s belly might do it.”

Belial said, “Shall I put that to the test?”

“Self-replicating veterinary nano, Belial, something Bat-El heard chatter about. I’m to be a healer as well as a teacher.”

Belial moved forward with the blade, to test if this nano healed missing flesh. Yeshua cried, “God shall give his angels charge over you. They shall bear you up in their hands, lest your foot strike against a stone!” He bent backwards over the wooden rail of the upper level. A ball of water a meter in diameter appeared, floating in midair. The water overflowed the sphere and the excess poured straight down to the floor. It was Binah’s business to make sure the ball intercepted Yeshua as he fell with arms and legs tucked in close.

Belial screamed wih rage because he knew what was coming and he could only watch it come. Yeshua cannonballed into the sphere of water, which then snapped out of existence with a splash that left the water ankle deep on the ground floor of the house.

Left alone Belial’s first impulse was to burn Bat-El’s house to the foundation once again, as Samael did after Binah’s conception. But he remembered the week it would take to stockpile sufficient dark light to establish a fold-door that he might depart, and he knew how cold it could get. The fire would wait.

To the eyes of searchers Yeshua was immersed in the river named Nahar ha-Yarden, or Jordan, for longer than any man could hold his breath by his own will. But he did rise again, to the immense relief of his brothers Shimon and Yosy.

Yohanan and his disciples were also gladdened. They had scoured the river thinking he had drowned. Yohanan peered closely to assure himself it really was Yeshua and not someone else who had dived into the water looking for him. He said, “God is gracious! I thought you had been swept away!” But Yohanan wondered why the man did not seem to be distressed and gasping for air.

Yeshua said to him, “Peace be with you, teacher. I am well.”

No further explanation was given, which annoyed Yohanan. He let Yeshua return with his brothers to the crowd of hangers-on who watched from the bank of the river. No one else came forward to be baptized. It entered into Yohanan’s thoughts how this Yeshua might have made pretense of drowning to drive away the supplicants. He set Yudah of Kerioth to watch Yeshua and his brothers to see what more mischief they might do, and perhaps, when the crowds thinned, bid them to depart.

Standing apart from the people was a man said to have an unclean spirit, one who continually cried out in an unknown tongue. When Yeshua saw this man he was filled with compassion and drew near to him. The poor fellow said, “Have you come to destroy us?”

Briefly Yeshua was horrified to imagine the inner state of this man, that he would speak so. Yet in the midst of his suffering he had sufficient hope to seek out the baptism of Yohanan and he had the self-control to stand where he did. Yeshua knew the human brain was just an organ, subject to ailments like any other. It was fear born of ignorance that led people to believe the man’s irrational shouts were the mark of possession by devils. But Yeshua saw how these things presented an opportunity. He said, “Hold your peace, and come out of him!” Then he touched the man’s bare skin with his hands. The effect was so swift it surprised even Yeshua. The fellow had sought baptism as a cure, but now at the touch of Yeshua he was no longer driven to make unfiltered shouts.

Yosy and Shimon were shocked. Onlookers said, “He commands unclean spirits and they obey!”

The cured man fell to his knees before Yeshua, but he was bid to rise again, and he was led to Yudah, who had been sent by Yohanan to watch over the three sons of Yosef. Yeshua said to the man, “If you know you have sinned, tell your offenses to this disciple of Yohanan, and be baptized.”

Then Shimon and Yosy pressed near to ask their brother how he was now able to cast out devils. Yeshua said, “Only God has the power to do that, and whosoever God chooses. I will need your help. The harvest is bountiful, but the laborers are few.”

Like the man cured by Yeshua, some of the crowd suffered afflictions they believed were punishment for sin. But all Yohanan could do, after his disciples determined they were contrite, was baptize them and give assurance they were forgiven. He could not make them well. But now when these people came out of the Jordan River Yeshua laid his hands on them and they were indeed healed just as they hoped. Word spread. Soon Yohanan had people taking numbers to be dunked, and when he passed the plate around it overflowed with shekels.

Antipatros, the son of Herod the Great, had ambitions to be king of all Judea. But for now it seemed good to the emperor Augustus to call him tetrarch. Nevertheless Rome was pleased with his administration of the lands near Lake Kinneret called Galilee and also Perea across the Jordan River.

The Jewish landowners and Levites who prospered by dipping into the river of taxes that flowed from the peasants to Rome all favored the rule of Herod Antipas, as Antipatros was called. As the fame of Yohanan grew some came out to see his baptism and the healings by his new disciple. When Yohanan saw the Jewish elite who favored Herod he called them the get of vipers, and asked, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath of God?”

One of them said in reply, “Certainly the blameless under the law do nothing worthy of repentance.”

Yohanan replied, “It does not make a man good if he merely refrains from doing evil. Every tree which does not bear good fruit shall soon meet the tree feller.”

“Save your admonitions for the foreigners of Galilee,” said the Herodian. “We are the children of the Covenant.”

Yohanan picked up two stones as though to cast missiles and said, “Blood alone cannot recommend you to God. The Most High is able of these stones to raise up the descendants he promised Abraham! You load the people with burdens too heavy to bear, but you yourselves refuse to carry even a light load. You erect memorials for the very prophets your fathers killed! I tell you truly, God has demanded an accounting for the blood of the prophets you have shed.”

The Herodians advanced to seize Yohanan, but they saw how his disciples came to defend him, stout fellows all of them, and some of the mob who had come to hear his preaching began to pick up stones of their own. So they withdrew for a time.

The crowds who came to the baptism of Yohanan waxed greatly after word of Yeshua’s healings spread through Galilee. Yohanan’s disciple Andreia spoke to his brother Shimon, a boatman who caught fish on Lake Kinneret to be dried and preserved by salt in the city of Magdala. For a time Shimon left his boat in the hands of the men who worked under him that he might join his brother and become a disciple like his brother.

Yohanan walked with his growing retinue of eight disciples to the capital city of Tiberias, newly built on Lake Kinneret. He said, “If a man marries his brother’s wife he has dishonored his brother with impurity. They shall be childless.”

Herod Antipas heard of this, and knew Yohanan was deliberately antagonizing him, since he had married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, after she had divorced her husband.

Herod Antipas sent forth lackeys, the same who went to the river two weeks before to confront Yohanan. Armed with clubs, they were ordered to seize Yohanan and mistreat any of his disciples who would attempt to thwart the arrest. Shimon, the brother of Andreia, moved to stand close to Yohanan, as he was a large and formidable man and zealous to prove himself as a new disciple, but he was waved off. Yohanan had made his point. The ones who claimed to be blameless under the law supported an adulterer.

Yohanan’s four original disciples thought God would strike down the men who took him captive. They watched until Yohanan disappeared from view. Philippos then turned to Yeshua to ask, “Will you heal the Teacher after Antipas has chastised him?”

Yeshua said, “Of all the prophets sent to Israel, none is greater than Yohanan. But of a truth I say to you, Philippos, that you shall not see your master again until the second life.”

Something about Yeshua’s words conveyed a deep sincerity that immediately convinced the disciples. Barthulumaus sobbed. Yudah pulled at his hair. Andreia said to his brother, “Shall we return to the nets and take up fishing again to buy our way?”

Yeshua said to Andreia and his brother, “Stay close to me, rather, and I will make you fishers of men.” He turned toward the other discipes of Yohanan, and also to his own brothers Shimon and Yosy. “Your teacher baptized you with water but I will baptize you with the spirit of God.”

Philippos held on to the hope that his master would simply be beaten and released. But when it grew dark he asked of Yeshua dolefully, “Where shall we go now?”

“I have silver,” Yeshua told him. “We will dine and lodge in Tiberias tonight, and when it is light we will go south.” Indeed, in the days and weeks to follow Yeshua always seemed to have silver, though not even Shimon and Yosy knew where he obtained it. Yeshua knew that all the people around him, the very culture of the Roman world, was obsessed with scarcity. On a planet of inexhaustible riches humans beings faced bitter lack everywhere they turned, and they imagined God himself, the almighty, could only dole out blessings to a limited few.

The broken trust between people over needless scarcity was made manifest when Yeshua led his disciples through rocky fields and over fences of stones rather than walking the roads. When Yudah asked why, Yeshua replied, “For the simple reason that eight men walking on a road with no women look like bandits.”

At sunset on the first day out of Tiberias a great crowd had gathered, and Yeshua took the opportunity to teach the people in an echo of Michael’s own Sunset Discourse in Salem. He said, “How fortunate are the poor, for they shall have God’s kingdom. How fortunate are the hungry, for they shall have all they can eat. How fortunate are they who mourn, for in the second life they shall be reunited with the loved ones they have lost. How fortunate are they who suffer reproach in this life for the sake of the kingdom of God, for they shall have great reward in the next. Rejoice, for so they treated the prophets who came before you! And yet, I tell you, love the ones who offer you reproach. Bless the ones who curse you, pray for the ones who abuse you. If you only love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even the tax collectors do as much. If you lend money and expect repayment what credit is that to you? Even the wicked ones put out their money at interest. Be like your father in Kemen, who makes the sun to shine on both the evil and the good, and sends rain on both the just and the unjust. Ask, and it will be given to you. Therefore speak your heart to God always. When you pray, say, ‘Father in Heaven, may your name be revered. May your rule take root on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give to us what we need each day, and pardon our debts even as we pardon those who are indebted to us. Save us from unbearable trials, and give us the strength to overcome those trials which must come.'”

Yeshua’s fame reached Nazareth, the city of his family, before he reached there in two days from Tiberias, just as Shabbat commenced. In Nazareth Yeshua realized that even his sainted mother was immersed in the outlook of scarcity. She said, “Yosy told me you have changed, somehow. That you can heal with a touch. How could this come to be?”

“Give all glory to the God of Israel, mother, as it should be.”

She said, “‘I have heard there is a spring in Emmaeus with warm water that comes out of the ground. Many people come there to be healed, and they pay money.”

“They pay money to toll-taking gatekeepers, mother, but God made the spring. What right do the gatekeepers have to take money?”

“Momma has a point,” said Salome, who was Yeshua’s sister, but older by seven years. She was married to a man named Zvad’yah. Half a generation removed from her brothers, who saw her as an aunt. She said, “Shimon told me you’re wandering around healing the sick for whatever they can scrape up to give you. I think you would be better served to remain here with your family and let the sick come to you.”

“Sister mine,” said Yeshua, “you would only become a gatekeeper yourself.” Yeshua drew near to her with a closed fist. When he opened it, silver coins fell into her lap to be caught by her robe, the plain disks issued by Herod Antipas with no images stamped thereon, so as not to offend Jews. There was far more money than could have fit in his fist. He said, “Take no thought, beloved sister, for what you shall eat, nor what you shall wear. Life is so much more than food or raiment. Our God knows you have need of those things. What kind of father would he be, if his daughter asked for a loaf of bread, and he gave her a stone, or if she asked for fish and he gave her a snake? God knows all this, and he will give good things to those who ask. Seek first the kingdom of God, and nothing shall hinder you from receiving what you need!”

“The kingdom of God?” asked Hifai. ‘And what do you imagine that makes you? His prince?”

Yeshua said nothing in reply immediately. Instead he went over to a shelf where Hilfai kept his scrolls of the prophets in clay pots and found the one containing the words of Isaiah. Yeshua unspooled to a certain place and read aloud, “On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The desperate ones shall again find joy in Ha-Shem, the poorest rejoice in the Holy Redeemer of Israel.” Yeshua gathered up the scroll and put it back in its place. “I tell you this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing this night.”

Hilfai uttered a low, gutteral moan as he held his fist near his ear. “They tell me you can now heal the sick, Yeshua, but can you heal yourself? You suffer the same mind-sickness of this Yonanan you follow. It makes you say the scriptures speak of yourself. It is a plague. Many have suffered the same and came to no good end, including, I am told, this baptizer.”

Shimon said to Hilfai, “You haven’t seen what Yeshi can do!” Though perhaps he had. Salome was still picking up coins.

“I have no wish to see what Yeshua can do, if he leads you and all who follow him to be beaten with rods, or even stoned to death! How would your mother bear the news of it?”

“That is enough, father, please,” said Yakob. He turned to face his step-brother and speak to him in a voice as calm and measured as he could make it. “Tell me, Yeshua, is this kingdom of God you teach really better than the rule of the Gentiles if it divides your own family in the very beginning?”

Yeshua replied, “Brother, how do you not discern this time? The kingdom of God, like any birth, comes with great pain. Henceforth a father shall be divided against his son, and a mother against her daughter, and a brother against his sister, until the rule of God is made manifest!”

“Will you stay here as your mother and sister suggest?”

“In one location? With fixed lines of power? No, Yakob, that is precisely what will be soon be overthrown by God. Every day shall begin anew, with people in direct contact with God through prayer and with each other through giving.”

Yakob sighed, then said to him, “It is Shabbat. We will make room here and in the house of Zvad’yah for they who are travelling with you. But on the morning of the first day of the week you should go, as you have said.”

“They are justified, brother, who call you Yakob the Righteous.”

Yeshua spoke true when he said families would be divided. Yakob would not join Yeshua, but his twin brother Yudah did. And the followers of Yeshua called him Teom, or ‘Twin’, to distinguish him from Yonanan’s Yudah, he who came from the town in southern Judea called Kerioth. And the young sister of Yakob and Yudah, who was called Little Miriam now that she had a step-mother named Miriam, mourned that her brother was to leave. Yet he was not alone. The sons of Z’vad’yah and Salome, Yakob and Yohanan, chose to become disciples. Yohanan was two years younger than Yosy, so he was the youngest of all those who became Yeshua’s disciples. To avoid confusion with the baptizer and with his stepbrother Yeshua surnamed his cousins Yohanan and Yakob Boanerges, or ‘Sons of Thunder’.

There was a sect called the Essenes built entirely around a single passage in the Book of Daniel that said, “With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know God will firmly resist him.” Yohanan had been Essene, but broke with them. The baptizer knew that once, just once, the Jewish people had overthrown the succession of masters who had dominated them since the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. They defeated the corrupt Syro-Macedonian king and installed a king of their own every bit as corrupt. To Yohanan the lesson from God was clear: It served nothing to struggle against God’s enemies if the very nature of the conflict made you God’s enemy as well. So there was nothing to do but make oneself pure and wait for God himself to bring superior violence to his enemies.

Yeshua in turn had made a break from Yohanan, but he had not yet revealed this. With something of an inside track to the thoughts of Bat-El he knew the one the Yehudim called Yahweh really had no human enemies and little desire to settle affairs in that rough neighborhood of Earth. Yeshua saw how the Romans dominated society with the willing participation of the priesthood and the scribes. The Temple was now a kind of central clearing house for power, and he knew there was no possibility of overthrowing that system or starting a popular revolution that would. What Yeshua could do instead was teach anyone who listened how to build a new kind of society from the ground up. He could teach them how to nullify the power of the priests and scribes and Pharisees to exclude. In the Kingdom of God there would always be a place where the excluded ones could land on their feet.

Yeshua knew he could never destroy the domination system, only expose the scapegoating mechanism that lay at the root. He knew it would cost his life in the process because those who relied on the flow of power and the markers that went with it, the money, would protect that flow at all costs. But Yeshua could not bring himself to condemn anyone who was trapped in the sickness that was the Roman system. Not the emperor in Rome, not the Tetrarch who had arrested Yohanan, and especially not the lowest component in the machine, a tax collector named Mattiyahu who had come to see him heal and teach.

With Mattiyahu looking on Yeshua healed a ‘leper’ and ordered him to make a gift to the priest in the temple of God according to the Mosaic Law, but he was saddened by the case because the man only had psoriasis and was not infectious in any way, yet the priests have required him to live in solitude.

Yeshua told the crowd, “A man had two sons. He told one, ‘Go and work in the vineyard today.’ At first his son refused, but thought better of it and went. The man said the same to another son, who replied, ‘I will go, sir’ but he did not. Which of the two was the faithful son? “Likewise your Father in Kemen told you the Children of Israel are to be a priestly people, a light to the Gentiles. But do you make the rule of God present with your active participation? No! You pay lip service, and wait for God to overthrow your occupiers with violence!”

Mattiyahu was moved by all that he saw Yeshua say and do. He drew near and said, ‘Teacher, let it be that you and your disciples recline at table in my house, for I would hear more.”

Yeshua accepted, but Barthulumawus said, “Master, everyone knows this is a tax collector and a sinner!”

Yeshua said, “The taxes flow to Rome, Barthulumawus, and the occupiers deflect the anger of those who pay the taxes by directing it against our brothers who gather it for them. Yet it is not the righteous I am calling to repentance.”

As they dined in the house of Mattiyahu he asked, “Teacher, what signs will we observe when God begins to rule the Earth?”

Yeshua replied, “Only the faithless demand a sign. They seek a spectacle that overcomes their disbelief. When the Kingdom comes it will already exist within your hearts. But do not think the coming of the Kingdom of God will change the law. Every precept of the Law written in the books of Moshe shall stand for the duration of Earth itself. But God expects much more than performing the written obligations. He sees into your heart. Both your interior righteousness and your exterior righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.”

Hearing all these things, Matthiyahu begged to be numbered with Yeshua’s disciples. Yeshua replied, “You must abandon your work as a publican before you may follow me.”

“Done,” said Mattiyahu, and the objection of Barthulumawus over dining with a tax collector was answered quite neatly. Then Yeshua led his disciples to Lake Kinneret that Mattiyahu might be baptized, and he asked Barthulumawus to do the honors. Yeshua seemed to watch Yohanan’s former disciple closely but Barthulumawus thought it to be unnecessary. He knew the meaning of the ritual cleansing. And when Mattiyahu was come again out of the waters of the lake he was fully accepted by Barthulumawus and all of the disciples as one of their own.

Then was seen in the eleventh hour the boat owned by Shimon the brother of Andreia bringing to shore the day’s catch of fish. With Yeshua and his disciples laboring in the final hour of the day, the fish was packed onto wagons to be driven to the city of Magdala for salting and packing. Yeshua knew that much of the fish would never get that far, but would be lost to toll takers on the road and in the city.

Through the evening they all went north across Lake Kinneret in Shimon’s boat. Seated at the rudder, with canvas unfurled, Shimon sailed to his home in Capernaum on a gentle wind, guided by the lights on the shoreline he knew so well. And Shimon’s wife Concordia, hearing that he drew near to the house, went out to greet him. But she seemed to be much less happy than he would have liked. Concordia said, “My mother has been stricken with a fever these past three days.”

Then Shimon went in to see Perpetua, and Yeshua walked with him. They saw the woman lying sick with fever, and Yeshua took her hand. Within a few moments she rose from the bed and her thoughts grew clear. Having laid in bed for three days she was keen to move about, so together with Concordia she prepared a supper for Yeshua and his disciples.

Overnight the word of Yeshua’s deed spread throughout Capernaum, such that by first light the entire city, it seemed, was gathered outside of the house of Shimon. And four men with paralysis were borne toward the house on litters, but they could not enter by reason of the crowd. The men with palsy were lifted by ropes to the roof of adjoining houses and taken directly to the house of Shimon. A section of the roof overhead was removed as Yeshua looked up in wonder and amused satisfaction as the stricken men were lowered to the floor within.

There also appeared above the hole in the roof the faces of men Yeshua recognized from Tiberias, some of the same partisans who took Yohanan into custody on the orders of Herod Antipater. And Yeshua said to them, “Hail to you, O blameless ones. What have you come to see?”

One of them said, “We know Yohanan blasphemed God by telling those who came to him their sins were forgiven. We would see if his successor would persist in this blasphemy. Only God can forgive the sins of a man if he confesses them and makes the required temple sacrifice according to the Law of Moshe.”

Yeshua gestured at the four men lying on cots before him, all of them mute and none of them able to make any movements beyond involuntary trembling. “Do you imagine these unfortunate men have come to this state through their own sins?”

“We know it,” replied the Herodian.

Yeshua said, “I tell you God has already forgiven these men.”

“Impossible! They have made no sacrifice with the priests!”

“But their kinsmen have made intercession with God on their behalf. Have you ever seen such hope and trust?”

The Herodian shouted down through the hole, “The one who sins is the one who shall die!”

“Ah, the prophet Yehezkel. Hear the words of the prophet Hosea in reply: ‘For I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'”

Then Yeshua touched each of the men with palsy in turn, and soon their tremors ceased, and they were able to rise from the canvas of their own power. The faces of the Herodians watching overhead were seen no more. But there remained many sick of Capernaum to be healed.

As he made them whole Yeshua recalled his words to Belial in Anshar, how he was to be a teacher and a healer. But what, he wondered, was he to teach? Would people be willing to accept how the healing was done? Everyone in this culture imagined invisible spirits existed everywhere they turned. Yeshua knew people were like cities of countless living things that were invisible simply because they were too small to see, and each one of these entities was fully occupied with the business of keeping itself alive in cooperation with the whole. Sometimes repairs were needed. There was nothing supernatural about it.

At Hell’s Half Acre Dory and Gabriel stared at Yeshua in wonder, trying to reconcile his actual appearance with the popular depictions of him and there was just no way to do it.

But Robyn seemed preoccupied and looked off to the side. “What is wrong, Robyn?’ Yeshua asked her. “What do you see?”

She said, “Jashen announces the wedding but the White Wing of the Church will not accept it. Gabriel is attacked, but torture doesn’t work on B’nei Elohim and Gabriel’s friends retaliate, so Paul Bergin and Klaus Hansen kill me instead. They end up killing the Church.”

“How would you reply, Robyn, if I asked in truth that you do not avoid or resist those men, even to your death?”

After a long pause she said, “I think I would decline such a request, Lord. I’m not in any particular hurry for my life come to an end just when I’m getting started.”

“And what does my cross say to you?”

“That death is not a blank wall, it’s a door, and you went through it and came back to show us that even if we die we don’t stay dead. But now I see how time really works and I know it was all a magic trick like Gabriel with his stupid coins.”

Yeshua was genuinely fascinated by Robyn’s unexpected reply. He asked, “When you look at me with new talent, what do you see?”

She said, “I see something like a fuse burning backward, assembling itself from smoke and sparks. It grows. One time that fuse looped back, crossed itself, and there were two burning Yeshuas experiencing an advancing present. But one of them was wiped off the face of the Earth. He hit that blank wall we call death. The one who lived, the lucky one, is you.”

“You’re wrong about the blank wall, Robyn. The part of me that is Binah carried over the dying memories of the man who was put to death and merged them with my own.”

“Again, Lord, lucky you. But that didn’t help the Yeshua who experienced death. You’re a different one.”

“Robyn, nobody in history has ever ‘experienced death’. There comes a moment in our lives that is not followed by another one, but that last moment never becomes a memory.”

“Lord, will you please say why I must not resist my own murder?”

“When you and Hunky escaped your prison last night what did you do to make the correct combination appear in your memory?”

“I had to begin punching them in.”

“Even so, your own temporary end will mark a beginning. But Robyn, I will not order you to do what you are unwilling to do, so let us speak of something else. Your friends will not arrive in Headwater until late tonight. Will you come with me? I can bring you to a reunion with your mother in very little time.”

And Robyn, who felt a little guilty telling Yeshua no on the first thing, told him yes on the other.

After hugging her friends farewell Robyn hiked with Yeshua down to the bottom of the ravine and followed him into the dark cave, where it grew light again and a little warmer. Then they were kicking through fallen leaves piled up to their knees. But there was still plenty of green.

“Christmas trees!” exclaimed Robyn when she saw a stand of Douglas Fir. Many more of them covered a range of mountains she could see through bare branches of maple and alder. They were standing on a mountain as well, separated from the range..

Yeshua said, “I have taken us here on a short side trip before I take you home.”

‘Where are we, Lord?’

“We are still in your country. Of the forty-eight states, this one is furthest to the north and furthest to the west.”

“Washington.”

“I want you and your friends to organize a migration and move the whole Red Wing of the Church here, even as Mark Lange took his followers to Green Dome once upon a time. We have not yet given up on that project, my mother and I.”

During Temple services the Prophet of the Church of Green Dome, Jashen Shybear, declared he was setting aside the discipline of the Church, in a single case, so that Gabriel Shybear could marry Kimberly Zinter. With a loud outcry of righteous indignation the Apostle Klaus Hansen stood up and left the sanctuary, taking half the White Wing with him.

In short order Klaus Hansen declared himself the Prophet of the Reformed Green Dome Church. It went without saying that forbidding interracial marriage was one of the reforms, but there were many others. Listing them made up the bulk of Hansen’s sermon on the Sunday following just days after the disastrous split in the Church.

Hansen said the curse of God lay upon all those who played cards. All who engaged in dancing were in danger of God’s holy judgment. Those who even permitted themselves to listen to race music would face the very fires of hell. He told his flock to let not one single drop of Demon Rum pass their lips. To prove they were indwelt of the Holy Spirit, he encouraged the faithful to roll in the sawdust on the floor of the barn out on River Road, near the bridge, that was their new ‘temple’. That was just as well, as there were not enough benches for everyone to sit.

The beautiful white Temple looking down on them from the highest point in town seemed to mock them by simply continuing to exist. Many got up to leave during the service, but what was most alarming of all to the new prophet, the plate came back largely empty of cash.

The former Deacon Paul Bergin, now Apostle, went door-to-door to the homes of White Wingers passing out hastily-mimeographed tracts promised eternal damnation to backsliders who were tempted to stay or to return to the mother church.

Many of the white parishioners weighed the peril to their eternal souls if they remained in schism. Most found the barn situation to be intolerably pathetic. The pressure mounted on Hansen to approach the Prophet of the mother Church and negotiate a healing of the breach.

Paul and Klaus approached the Temple office door, but it was opened by Gabriel an instant before they could knock.

“How did you do that, son?” asked a startled Klaus.

“The Prophet foresaw that you were about to knock.”

Inside the office Paul and Klaus saw only Gabriel, Dory, and Kim, and it was soon apparent the men knew only one of them by name, which was Kim. Quelle surprise that the former Apostle and Deacon never troubled to get to know anyone in the Red Wing of the Church.

“Speaking of the Prophet, I came here to talk to him.”

“She’s right there,” said Dory, pointing at Robyn.

“I just see three kids who broke into the Temple office and are running loose. Where’s Jashen?”

“He’s in a better place,” Gabriel said.

“He’s dead?”

“No,” said Kim, “but he blamed himself for the schism and stepped down.”

“He was absolutely right to blame himself but if he left you in charge he must have been wholly demented in the end, because it says in the scriptures, ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over men. They must remain silent.'”

“You’re going to have to show me a little respect, Mister Hansen, as I am indeed the Prophet of the Church of Green Dome, notwithstanding whatever someone pretending to be Paul wrote in the First Century about womenfolk.”

Kim reached into a desk drawer and withdrew a leather-bound green book. “I know you’ve seen this before, Mr. Hansen. It’s Mark Lange’s handwritten copy of the Book of Green Dome. He called it the Printer’s Manuscript. The first few sheets on the inside cover are an official Church document.”

She laid the book on her desk and flipped it open. The first entry on the inside cover said PASTOR MARK LANGE, PROPHET, SEP 1, 1866, followed by Lange’s signature, and this in turn was followed by a mark of an individual unknown, in Hebrew script. Kim said, “We believe the Lord Yeshua himself made this initial.”

This entry was followed by the First Decree, which read, THE PROPHET OF THE CMURCH SHALL CHOOSE, FROM THE WING OF THE CHURCH OF WHICH HE IS NOT A PART, ONE WHO SHALL HOLD THE OFFICE OF APOSTLE. It was dated SEP. 1, 1866, signed and initialed by Prophet Lange.

This was followed by the Second Decree, which read, IN THE EVENT OF THE DEATH OR RESIGNATION OF THE PROPHET, THE APOSTLE SHALL VACATE THE OFFICE OF APOSTLE AND ATTAIN TO THE OFFICE OF PROPHET. This was dated and certified Sep. 1, 1866.

The next entry, in the same handwriting, read, CHIEF WANICA, APOSTLE, SEP. 1, 1866, followed by a ragged ‘W’ and again by Lange’s initials.

Kim said, “As you well know, We hold the first day of September to commemorate the founding of the Church of Green Dome, seventy-six years ago.”

The next entry in the leaves of the Printer’s Manuscript read, again in the same handwriting, APOSTLE WANICA, DECEASED, NATURAL CAUSES, FEB. 27, 1906, followed by Lange’s initials.

The entry after that was JASHEN SHYBEAR, APOSTLE, FEB. 28, 1906, certified by the signature of Jashen and by Lange’s initials.

The next entry was written in a different hand. It said, PROPHET MARK LANGE, DECEASED, SINKING OF RMS LUISITANIA, MAY 7, 1915. This was signed by Jashen and dated May 9 of that year, which reflected a delay in receiving the news. A diagonal line was drawn through the remaining blank space to the bottom of the inside cover and this, too, was signed by Jashen.

On the facing page, the first line read, APOSTLE JASHEN SHYBEAR, PROPHET, MAY 9, 1915 and this was signed and initialed by Jashen. The next line read, KLAUS HANSEN, APOSTLE, OCT 9, 1931 and this was signed by Hanson and initialed by Jashen.

Kim rotated the book to show Hanson the entry. She said, “All my life, until I became Prophet of the Church and read this, I wasn’t even aware the Church had gone sixteen years without an Apostle. I suppose Jashen found the choice to be such a difficult one he was willing to risk breaking the clear order of succession with his own death. Or was it life insurance?”

Klaus said, “At that time you were probably too young to know about or care about Church politics. Sixteen years! Eventually the White Wing threatened to walk out over the delay.”

“Walkouts seem to be popular with our side of the Church,” Kim said, making a pointed jab.

“We did what we had to do to force Jashen’s hand. And we made him establish the diaconate to stop it from happening again.”

“I see. That explains the next line.” Jashen wrote the text of the Third Decree, dated the same day as the appointment of Hansen. It stated, THE PROPHET SHALL APPOINT, FROM ALTERNATING WINGS OF THE CHURCH, A DEACON TO SERVE THE SPIRITUAL AND MATERIAL NEEDS OF THE WHOLE CHURCH. IN THE EVENT OF THE DEATH OR RESIGNATION OF THE APOSTLE, THE DEACON SHALL ATTAIN TO THE OFFICE OF APOSTLE. And Jashen had signed and initialed this.

The next line read PAUL BERGIN, DEACON, Oct. 9, 1931. This was signed by Paul, and initialed by Jashen. Kim asked, “Does everything appear to be in order, gentlemen?” Paul nodded agreement, and Klaus said it appeared to be so.

Kim then indicated the next line, which none of the men had ever seen. NO OFFICE OF THE CHURCH SHALL BE VACATED EXCEPT IN THE CASE OF THE DEATH OR RESIGNATION OF THE OFFICEHOLDER. Signed by Jashen and dated January 10, 1943.

Kim said, “When he stepped down Jashen told us he never had to think about it before, but the Fourth Decree became necessary following the events of Wednesday the 5th of January of this year, when you went out from us. But let us go on.”

The next line read APOSTLE KLAUS HANSEN, RESIGNED, JAN. 10, 1943, signed by Jashen. Naturally, Hansen objected to this. “I never resigned!”

“I was there in that filthy barn you call your temple,’ said Kim. “I’m White Wing, remember? You introduced yourself as the Prophet of the Reformed Church of Green Dome. When I reported that to the actual Prophet he took that to be your official resignation. How did he put it, Dory?”

Dory replied, “My father said, ‘No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.’ In fine, if you’re an officer in the Reformed Green Dome so-called Church you can’t be an officer in the mother Church.”

Kim nodded, and said, “That led to the next line.”

It read KIMBERLY SHYBEAR, APOSTLE, JAN. 10, 1943. Kim had signed it, and Jashen had initialed next to this. “The upshot, Mr. Hansen, is that in the eyes of Prophet Jashen Shybear you up and quit, so he chose me to replace you.”

Kim proceeded to the next line, which read DEACON PAUL BERGIN, RESIGNED, JAN. 10, 1943. This was also signed by Jashen.

Kim asked, rhetorically, “Do we need to go over the same argument for the resignation of the Deacon as it was for the Apostle? No? Then let us go on.”

The next line read, GABRIEL SHYBEAR, DEACON, JAN. 10, 1943, signed by Gabriel and initialed by Jashen.

Kim said, “All perfectly legal, of course. Jashen’s decree said the Deacon shall be of alternating race. As you can see, Sunday was quite the busy day, but now we’re in the homestretch.’ And she advanced to the next item written on the page.

It read PROPHET JASHEN SHYBEAR, RESIGNED, JAN. 10, 1943 and it carried his signature. That seemed to grab the attention of Bergin and Hansen.

Kim said, “Now you can see how I closed out his rather eventful page.”

Kim flipped the page over and showed everyone the first entry. APOSTLE KIMBERLY SHYBEAR, PROPHET, JAN. 10, 1943. And this was signed and initialed by Kim, exercising her apostolic authority under the Second Decree established by Prophet Jashen.

Underneath that was the final entry in the manuscript, which read DORIEL SHYBEAR, APOSTLE, JAN. 10, 1943. This was signed by Kim and initialed by Gabriel.

She said, “And all this to show we are not just three kids playing in the Temple office, but actual officers of the Church. So now that I have established my credentials as the Prophet of the Church, what have you and Mr. Bergin come to say to us?”

Klaus said, “We pray for the reunion of the Church. Were the Golden Gift to alternate in possession between members of the Red and White Wings, even as the office of Deacon, presently does, that would go a long way towards sealing the breach.”

Kim said, “That is easily enough done.” She took up a the pen to write in the leaves of the Green Book, THE SACRED RELIC SHALL REMAIN IN THE POSSESSION OF THE DEACON OF THE CHURCH, WHO SHALL BE MINISTER OF THE LAST RITE. And she dated it January 18, 1943.

“Good,” said Hansen. “But here is our second, and most important demand: God’s sacred law of cousin marriage should be enshrined as the Fifth Decree.”

“Again, “said Kim with a gentle smile, “that is easily done.” She inked the following into the manuscript: MARRIAGE IN THE CHURCH OF GREEN DOME SHALL BE SOLELY BETWEEN PERSONS WITH THE SAME GRANDPARENTS OR GREAT-GRANDPARENTS, ON PAIN OF EXCOMMUNICATION. She dated it January 18, 1943 and signed it.

Hansen said, “Good. When do you announce the end of your engagement to Gabriel?”

“The decrees of the Church don’t work ex post facto.”

“The decree governs marriage. You haven’t married him yet.”

“Ah, but there you are wrong.” She showed him her wedding ring. Gabriel flashed hez own. She didn’t mention they had been wed in Kemen, and they’d been married for a year already, because it would just confuse him. “Yeshua himself said if a woman puts aside her husband to marry another she commits adultery against him. That’s one of the Lord’s nonnegotiables. I wonder why you look so surprised, Mr. Hansen. You must not have been paying attention when I signed my entries as Kimberly Shybear rather than Kimberly Zinter.”

Hansen reacted to this in his traditional way, by storming noisily out, followed by Bergin. His parting words to Gabriel were, “Watch your back.”